Digital Japanese History

絵本水や空、耳鳥斎 画、3冊 (合1冊) ; 23cm、平安、八文字屋八左衛門、安永9 [1780]、、出典:国立国会図書館「NDLイメージバンク」 (

By Yoshinobu Kubodera


Throughout history, women have rarely been categorized based on their class or social status. Japanese history is no exception. The Tokugawa period had a distinctive class system, shinōkōshō, which divided people based on their profession. The profession was usually passed down from parents to their sons. Another distinctive feature of the Tokugawa period is the influence of Neo-Confucian thought on society. This resulted in the formation of a male-dominated society that suppressed women’s rights. Such religious belief was influential mainly because it was embedded in education, regardless of one’s social class. With regard to these features, this project will discuss women of various social classes in the Tokugawa period, particularly buke and commoner women in the late Tokugawa period, and focus on presenting how they were educated in the Tokugawa’s male-dominant society. The discussion is also based on various academic articles. The comparison of these articles presents commonalities in buke and commoner women’s education, and implies the trends of women’s education in different social classes in the Tokugawa period. The discussion concludes that buke women were highly suppressed even though they were well-educated, while commoner women had almost equal education compared to commoner men but geographical differences were found.


The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan displays on their website a brief explanation of education in the late Tokugawa period.[1] Although the webpage illustrates the education based on Edo’s class system, it ignores gender differences. Particularly, women’s education is generalized as a single category, while men are divided into buke and commoner. Hence, this project focuses on buke and commoner women’s education in the late Tokugawa period and presents what and how they learned and how it differed from buke and commoner men’s education. The discussion concludes that buke women were highly controlled in their education, while commoner women’s education was almost equal compared to the education that men received. Peter Kornicki, a professor of Japanese Studies at Cambridge University, mentions that education in the Tokugawa period neither for boys nor girls did constitute such a system.[2] There was enormous variation in the form of education, which differed in urban and rural environments. In this exhibit, therefore, tracing buke and commoner women’s education does not mean to essentialize women’s education in general; rather, the exhibit will discuss buke and commoner women’s education separately with particular locality.

For the individual parts please click on the respective title:

The impact of Kansei Reforms and Matsudaira Sadanobu on the-then education
Buke women’s education
Commoner’s education and terakoya
Conclusion and References

[1] Gakusei Hyakunen-shi Henshū Iinkai 1972.

[2] Kornicki 2005, pp. 7–38.